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Boca Raton Regional Hospital, Inc. v. Williams

Florida Court of Appeals, Fourth District

November 22, 2017

BOCA RATON REGIONAL HOSPITAL, INC. and BOCA RATON HOSPITAL FOUNDATION, INC., Petitioners,
v.
TIM WILLIAMS, M.D., ROBERT MANNHEIMER, and ROBERT A. TEPEDINO, Respondents.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

         Petition for writ of certiorari to the Circuit Court for the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, Palm Beach County; Richard L. Oftedal, Judge; L.T. Case No. 502017CA001845XXXXMB.

          Martin B. Goldberg, Rachel E. Kaufman and Jason A. Coe of Lash & Goldberg LLP, Miami, and Lawrence J. Miller and Norman A. Fleisher of Gutter Chaves Josepher Rubin Forman Fleisher Miller P.A., Boca Raton, for petitioners.

          Amy S. Rubin and Seth B. Burack of Fox Rothschild LLP, West Palm Beach, for respondent, Tim Williams, M.D.

          Per Curiam.

         Petitioners Boca Raton Regional Hospital, Inc. (Hospital) and Boca Raton Hospital Foundation, Inc. (Foundation) seek certiorari review of a trial court order denying their motion to disqualify opposing counsel in a pending lawsuit against them and others involving a trust. The trust provided a multi-million dollar bequest to the hospital. The trial court ruled that the petitioners lacked standing to move to disqualify counsel. In doing so, we conclude that the trial court departed from the essential requirements of law. We quash the order and return the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         Material Facts and Procedural History

         Richard Blackman died in September 2012 and his will provided for his estate to be distributed to the Richard Blackman Revocable Trust, including the subject hospital bequest. Blackman had been a patient of respondent Dr. Tim Williams (the doctor), who contends he was appointed to control the terms of the bequest. The doctor is represented by Attorney Amy Rubin from Fox Rothschild, L.L.P. (the law firm). Another partner from the same law firm, Attorney Jerold Glassman, retains a seat on the hospital's board of directors.

         In January 2017, the hospital filed in Nassau County, New York, a petition for probate seeking construction of the terms of the bequest and other matters. In February 2017, the doctor sued the hospital, foundation and two other defendants in this case in Palm Beach County, claiming he had full control over the bequest based on the will and trust provisions of decedent/donor.

         The hospital and foundation moved to disqualify counsel for the doctor, alleging a conflict of interest because Attorney Glassman had participated in board discussions on the issues in the two pending estate and trust cases "including legal issues and strategy, and the role of Dr. Williams with respect to the Blackman gift." The hospital and foundation argued that Attorney Glassman as a member of the board of trustees had a fiduciary duty and a duty of loyalty to them both. They claimed that this duty and resulting conflict was imputed to other members of the same law firm, including the attorney representing the doctor in the Florida lawsuit.

         In a supporting affidavit, Alexander D. Eremia, vice president and general counsel for the hospital and foundation secretary, said that Glassman as member of the board of trustees discussed the Florida and New York cases "including legal issues and strategy, and the role of Dr. Williams with respect to the Blackman gift." The affiant said that Glassman sent him an email after learning that the law firm had filed suit on behalf of the doctor, stating "as you know, I am a Partner in Fox, Rothschild, Amy Rubin is my Partner. On its face and with Amy's participation adverse to [the Hospital], the Complaint presents a conflict for me and most likely for [Fox Rothschild]." He further alleged that counsel for the hospital and foundation wrote opposing counsel Rubin and advised her of the law firm's conflict of interest. Counsel requested that the law firm withdraw from representing the doctor in this Florida case but the law firm declined. He also said neither the hospital nor the foundation consented to or discussed the law firm's representation of the doctor in this Florida case, and that no attorney from the firm had requested their consent for such representation.

         Opposing disqualification, the doctor filed an affidavit from Thomas Paradise, general counsel for the law firm, who said that Glassman transitioned to senior counsel status in 2008 and that the firm had screened him from access to information about the issues in the lawsuit. Paradise said Glassman could not have accessed any information about the subject of the Florida lawsuit and that in March 2017 the firm searched its document system and found no emails sent or received by Glassman involving the hospital and/or board members.

         This presented a factual dispute but the trial court did not address or resolve it. Instead, after hearing argument, the court denied the motion to disqualify for lack of standing because neither the hospital nor foundation could "stand in the shoes" of a current or ...


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